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Super Chick Sisters

Chris LaVigne | 18 Dec 2007 12:10
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Bartlett says he's happy with the result: "Based on the feedback we've read on gaming blogs, we feel that we did hit the right balance. The game has been praised for its humor and playability, but no one has skipped over the point that it does have a strong message."

Super Chick Sisters received a 9/10 rating from Tom Fulp, the founder of Newgrounds.com and a co-founder of game company The Behemoth. Responding to some negative user comments, Fulp wrote, "It looks like a lot of people are giving this game a hard time because they don't agree with the message. It's a solid platformer and plays better than a majority of the web-based platformers out there."

Rather than relying on players to read messages for information, other anti-advergames put the player in a simulation of an event or situation to make the player learn by doing. Disaffected!, an early anti-advergame by serious game developer Persuasive Games, parodies copy stores by forcing players to control workers in a Kinko's location where orders are constantly mixed up and employees don't always respond to your commands. Another anti-advergame by Italian activist group Molleindustria lets players run the McDonald's fast food chain from boardroom to farm to restaurant. Players must maximize profits by making decisions like whether to bribe health inspectors or raze rainforests to make room for more cattle.

The founder of Persuasive Games and author of a book about how games communicate social messages, Ian Bogost, criticized Super Chick Sisters on his blog for not having a stronger link between its gameplay and its message. "[A]s an anti-advergame," Bogost wrote, "the title doesn't really engage the KFC business practices PETA wants to critique. This is a real missed opportunity, because a game about breeding and slaughtering chickens under cruel conditions would get the point across much more effectively. Wouldn't players empathize much more with PETA's claims if they were actually forced to drug and boil live chickens?"

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These are the kinds of questions with which early anti-advergame developers must struggle. And while Bogost's critique may have merit, it's hard to picture anybody wanting to play a chicken-slaughtering simulator. Nilsen says attracting a large audience with her game and raising awareness for PETA's message was her priority.

"I believe videogames are like humor," she says. "When you get it right, you'll get your audience to like you before they even realize what you're saying. It's a valuable rapport to build, so that when you communicate a message as serious as how KFC tortures animals, it's more likely to not only be heard but also acted upon. Of course, developing a successful videogame also allowed us to send our message to a vast cross-section of people in gaming communities and the internet at large, who otherwise might have never known that the primary ingredient in a bucket of KFC is cruelty."

Bartlett says PETA will continue to use videogames to attract and inform the public. "What other vehicle can one use to communicate a message that will keep users engaged for 30 minutes?" he asks. "Videogames allow for an immersive experience that can inform players about an issue - in this case, KFC's cruel treatment of chickens - over a period of time. This is perfect for people who are interested but may be turned off by more direct appeals."

PETA's success will likely draw imitators and the number of anti-advergames will start to grow. Tactics will vary. Methods will differ. But that's what makes being present during the rise of a new genre so exciting. The field is wide open, and the art of using videogames to change the world is just beginning.

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